Movies entering the Public Domain in 2021
Some of the greatest films in cinematic history officially entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2021.
This is thanks to the Copyright Term Extension Act which states that most copyright works of art and literature enter the public domain 96 years after the year of their publication. The copyright status of some of these films has been in dispute, but the change in the calendar removes any ambiguity — at least in the United States.
Here are the movies I’m most excited about.
When The Tramp goes to Alaska to take part in the Gold Rush, he encounters relentless hardship. He battles hunger, loneliness, and a starving man named “Big Jim.”
Chaplin’s “potato dance” scene is one of the high points of comedy history.
The Gold Rush was Chaplin’s favorite of all his films. It was also a box office hit. It made $5 million in its first release, making it the 7th-highest-grossing movie of all time in 1925. But in 2021, you can see it legally without paying a dime.
A chain of comic circumstances lands Keaton in a church, where he wakes to find hundreds of prospective brides sitting behind him in their wedding gowns. When they realize he does not wish to marry any of them, they chase him out of the church, through the streets, and down a mountain with tumbling boulders.
Keaton plays a small-town boy who gives up on New York City and tries his luck out west. His accidental success makes full use of the fish-out-of-water premise.
His character gets in a shoot-out, herds cattle, falls off a train, befriends “Brown Eyes” the cow, fights off train bandits, and works to save the farm. His attempts to disguise the cow as a bull is a highlight.
The Freshman is one of Lloyd’s most famous films. He plays a young man who goes to college with plans to become the big man on campus. He gives himself the nickname “Speedy” and tries out for the football team. But the older, more popular students aren’t exactly welcoming to the tryhard newcomer.
The Freshman was a massive hit. It sold nearly 20 million tickets and was #4 on the list of the top-grossing movies of all time by the end of the year.
The film starred “The Man of a Thousand Faces,” Lon Chaney. Chaney famous devised his own ghastly appearance for the film and managed to keep it a secret until the premiere.
“I achieved the Death’s heard of that role without wearing a mask,” Chaney said of his makeup. “It was the use of paints in the right shades and the right places – not the obvious parts of the face – which gave the complete illusion of horror.”
The film is based on the 1912 novel by Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame. The intrepid Professor Challenger leads an expedition to South America in search of dinosaurs and other creatures who are supposedly extinct.
Fun fact: The Lost World was the very first in-flight movie. It was shown to passengers on an Im[perial Airways flight between London and Paris in April 1925.
The religious epic tells a Jewish prince who comes into contact with Jesus Christ during his adventurous life. It was the first feature-length film based on the 1880 novel by Lew Wallace of the same name.
A word of warning: More than a hundred animals were killed and countless others harmed in the making of this motion picture. At least the producers won’t be making any money when you watch it now.
The artistic masterpiece helped popularize Sergei Eisenstein’s pioneering use of montage. In the century since its release, it has become a film school staple. Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, and Charlie Chaplin have all called it one of their favorites.
But after his foreign affair becomes serious, our hero is called to the front. There, the horrors of war form permanent images in his head. The supporting cast is blown to bits as the special effects department has its shining hour.
Will our hero recover from his trauma? Will moviegoers forget the sacrifices of our troops?
Eisenstein’s practice of cross-cutting is best displayed near the end of the film. As soldiers violently put down the strike, the film cuts to footage of cattle being slaughtered. The cattle aren’t at all related to the film’s story. Eisenstein uses them as a metaphor in an example of “Montage editing.” This form of editing had been developed by Soviet directors familiar with American D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, which intercuts four parallel stories to emphasize common themes.
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- Fotis April 7, 2021
Excellent list, Adam! Let's hope Ben-Hur and The Big Parade get un-blocked someday. Copyright laws are getting more ridiculous every day...
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